Czeslaw Milosz on Jerzy Giedroyc, "Tygodnik Powszechny" No 39, 24 September 2000.
"Tygodnik Powszechny" No 39,
Krakow, 24 September 2000
"A LEGEND IS BORN"
Czeslaw Milosz on Jerzy Giedroyc
I would like what I am about to say about Jerzy Giedroyc to be of use somehow for the younger generations, for young people fin it hard to imagine the eras in which he lived. And Giedroyc's life was long, so he was a man of several eras.
He was very active in the two decades between the world wars. I first heard of him after arriving in Warsaw in the 1930s: Stefan Napierski, a poet and editor of the periodical "Ateneum" [Athenaeum], told me there was a young civil servant in the Ministry of Agriculture who was a great friend of poets and I might want to contact him. "Bunt Mlodych" [Youth Revolt], which Giedroyc was editing at the time, is another matter: a strange publication, worthy of note and even of study because it was positioned far off the beaten political paths and divisions, which endured throughout the inter-war years, though personally Giedroyc was clearly part of the Pilsudskiite current in Polish politics.
His activities during World War II - enlistment in the Carpathian Brigade, combat experience in Africa, work within the Polish army's educational center - prepared him for the world shaped by Yalta. Imagining the scale of the change of 1945 verges on the impossible today. That world's strangeness, Europe's division in two, the western allies' acknowledgement of Moscow's dominion over the continent's eastern end - these things were hard to comprehend objectively. Yet it seemed they would remain this way for at least a century. This terrified the soldiers of Anders's army, and there was nothing strange in this, especially since this army was composed of people who earlier had been forcibly exiled to the east and had somehow reached Anders after being freed from lagers or exile. Those who did not succeed at this, like Jaruzelski, had other adventures...
When Giedroyc founded "Kultura" and his publishing house in Italy, Anders's people were his clientele. Giedroyc was sure that the mutual resentments and hatred that had accrued between Poles on the one hand, and Ukrainians, Lithuanians and Belarusians on the other had to be overcome. He saw this as possible only if Poles relinquished Lviv and Vilnius. Émigrés hailing from those territories reacted with hostility. Yet he tenaciously pursued this line and Poland's current relations with its neighbors are largely the product of his efforts. This work was done by countless articles published in "Kultura," not to mention projects like the printing of Ukrainian books.
About twenty years ago, I wrote a humorous story: Lithuania is free and has finally acknowledged the importance of its local aristocracy. Giedroyc arrives in Vilnius, an immense audience gathers at the university and Giedroyc speaks to them in the purest Lithuanian, revealing that he had to conceal his knowledge of the language because the Poles would have eaten him alive. Reality provided an improbable manner: Giedroyc was in fact proclaimed an honorary citizen of Lithuania and received the Giedymin Medal, though he never did visit Vilnius, never knew Lithuanian and was born in Minsk...
Iwaszkiewicz once write me the following: émigrés imagine that things can be frozen and then restored to how they were exactly before the war - yet this is impossible. I shared his opinion. Giedroyc did not believe the changes occurring in Poland to be superficial. He was aware of their depth, strove to diagnose them and influence their development.
It is hard to explain to young people today the difference between "Wiadomosci Literackie" [The Literary News] and the London community on the one hand, and Giedroyc on the other - and they differed immensely. Mieczyslaw Grydzewski, certainly a brilliant editor, adapted to his readers - and the émigré reading public in London or America was in a certain sense frozen in a prewar mentality. By contrast Giedroyc strove to change that mentality, and above all sought to adapt his efforts to the reading public in Poland. Of course, only theoretically so, because only a limited number of issues of "Kultura" ever reached Poland, but according to his vision, the country chiefly deserved his attention.
I find Giedroyc's legend as disseminated by the media today to be incredibly instructive. From 1951, when I found refuge at Maisons-Laffitte, I saw how very humble and miniscule a project it was. Need we consider how minor events turn into legends and what impact they have as such? Ultimately, the march that began on Oleander Street in 1914 was also a minute occurrence that later grew into a legend. Giedroyc's legend developed in the Polish People's Republic: the secret police saw "Kultura" as an immensely powerful American institution designed to penetrate the East. In reality Giedroyc maintained American institutions at a distance. When the Cultural Freedom Congress was formed, someone suggested that "Kultura" become one of its official publications. Giedroyc refused with a view towards preserving its independence - and as a result "Kultura" outlived the Congress and all the periodicals it engendered by several decades.
A miniscule project, it continuously relied on financial miracles. At the start of my stay in France, "Kultura" occupied a decrepit house along Avenue Corneille in Maisons-Laffitte. When they had to vacate it, they bought a new house (though this was nearly impossible) with the help of rich friends who turned up. Small wonders kept the periodical alive, though it also had its subscriber base. It was a point of honor at "Kultura" to pay fees to authors - modest fees that were never a significant line item in my budget, but Giedroyc insisted on reliably paying them.
Our coexistence in exile was thorny at first, which was my fault. Frankly, the postwar literati in Poland saw the émigré community as inferior, destined to disappear. This view circulated in "society," and the Polish People's Republic was based largely on the "social" mentality of its elites, to which I, too, was exposed when I decided to "defect." When first in Maisons-Laffitte, I was very unkind...
To my last day I will owe Giedroyc for his stance in the "Milosz Case," which seems absurd today but was in fact serious. For it was not just about whether someone who had served the communist regime for five years could be welcomed into the émigré community. It centered on something else: the suspicion that I was a Soviet agent sent to dismantle the emigration. The ensuing campaign might have caused me to commit suicide, but Giedroyc spoke out strongly in my favor, even severing relations with a close friend, Ryszard Wraga, who claimed I was an NKVD agent.
An ascetic, Giedroyc was devoted to a single concept and always full of new ideas. Our correspondence consists chiefly of his letters containing instructions: someone needed a scholarship, someone else a recommendation, he wanted me to intervene with a given politician in France or the United States, and so on. I was unable to fulfill ninety percent of his requests...
He was convinced of his beliefs and possessed a rare persistence. I was among those who held that the Soviet Empire would collapse, but not in our lifetime. I was thus unenthused by some of Giedroyc's actions and agreed more with Kot Jelenski, who, for instance, was negative about smuggling books across the Tatras (which ended with the so-called "Mountaineers' Trial"), seeing it as pointless and believing those involved were futilely exposing themselves to arrest.
Thus, my feelings for Giedroyc are twofold: admiration verging on worship, skepticism swelling into impatience. His contribution to culture was vast, though he acted with political objectives in mind. Yet he understood politics deeply, seriously, and was fully aware that Polish literature was a great asset.
He once said with no exaggeration, "I have relinquished my personal life." "Kultura" could only exist because of a quartet of people who were a small phalanx, a commune that shared domicile and hearth, its members sacrificing much for a single cause. Today, when individualism is the fashion, young people also have trouble comprehending this...
Recorded by TF
"Tygodnik Powszechny" printed this text in its 24 September 2000 issue following the death of Jerzy Giedroyc. It appears on www.culture.pl - courtesy of the editors and publishers of "Tygodnik Powszechny" - in connection with "The Year of Jerzy Giedroyc," celebrated in 2006.
**wx:"The Year of JerzyGiedroyc" - main page*wx_rok_giedroycia**